Knowledge is Power
Do we all remember Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” Campaign? It was a call in 1982 for drug prevention for teens, in an effort to prevent drug and alcohol use and abuse. There was also D.A.R.E., a drug prevention program that swept across schools in our country.
While these programs had the best of intentions, they have been proven to be pretty ineffective, especially in our 21st Century world of easy access to drugs.
As a prevention specialist for a behavioral health organization, I am very concerned about our youth and the ever changing landscape of illegal and physician-prescribed drugs.
Here is a quick snapshot into my world. We are in the midst of a crisis. This opiate epidemic is killing 65,000 people each year. If that isn’t alarming enough for you, imagine if you knew that a disease would be killing as many people as 21 September 11, 2001 attacks each year.
I live in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where there is high access to some of the purest and cheapest heroin around. Most times, it’s not just pure heroin either. We’re seeing it contained with other substances, like baby powder, and other drugs, like cocaine, fentanyl, and carfentanil.
There is also a standing order in Pennsylvania for everyone to receive Naloxone, the lifesaving reversal drug that prevents an overdose. Finally, in the Philadelphia area alone in 2016, there were over 900 deaths due to opiate overdose. Do you see why I’m concerned?
Easy access to drugs makes it very difficult for me to do my job. Children aren’t learning coping skills because when they’re bored, they get the iPad to play with so they don’t act out in public. We give our children and teens instant gratification so that they act better in school. We give them prescription drugs to get right back on the field or court. For adults, prescription drugs are approved by health care so that the employees are right back to work.
By pumping drugs into people, we give them false safety and acceptance that taking a pill is a cure-all.
Guess what though…a pill isn’t going to cure this.
In fact, it’s the exact reason we’re in this mess. Since Pain was added as a fifth vital sign in 1996, pain medicine can be given to treat it. Prescription pain medications are one of the most addictive types and unfortunately, there has been a significant increase in opiate deaths due to overdoses of prescription pain medications.
This pain medication culture is what I believe leads to doctor shoppers, pill mills, etc. Luckily now, we have electronic records. So, doctors can see if you’re prescribed medicine from more than one physician and place. State regulatory agencies recently have passed laws that limit supplies of certain opiates, effectively decreasing the number of pills on the market and thus decreasing addiction.
You all may be asking, Bridget… I thought you worked in prevention. What you’re speaking about is not prevention! And you’d be correct. It’s not prevention, but I have something to share with you that is. Gateway drugs are real. They’re not a unicorn. They exist.
I understand that parenting these days has to be difficult. Instead of worrying about getting to and from extracurricular activities, it’s wondering if your 13 year old child is going to smoke marijuana or vapes today. Acceptability and access to gateway drugs, like tobacco, vapes, e-cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana, is posing a real issue for people in the prevention world. I am tasked with going into schools, with the intention of providing them with prevention messaging regarding drugs and alcohol.
My goal is always to give them skills to say “no”, but also, inform them of what happens if they do begin to use drug, including the effects and consequences of this behavior could be.
Do you know what’s scary? The drugs that are out now, particularly marijuana, is not the same marijuana that people dabbled in during the 60’s and 70’s. The marijuana of today has higher potency, which makes it more addictive, and the long term consequences are unknown at this time.
Alcohol is a tricky one too. Many see it as a right of passage to allow their children to drink alcohol. Has anyone had their judgement compromised under the influence of alcohol? I’m sure I could name a few! Being under the influence of alcohol, makes it easier for other drugs to be sought after because their judgement is already compromised by alcohol. It’s extremely rare for teenagers to abuse prescription drugs or heroin without trying alcohol or marijuana first.
I’d like to continue this conversation into different segments. So, please be on the lookout for them in the future! Trust me, you don’t want to miss it!
Now, I’ll leave you with some food for thought: When your child or someone you know is getting oral surgery, like a wisdom teeth removal, take some ibuprofen and wrap some ice packs on their face. They’ll be fine, I promise! Also, if they’re injured, let their body fix itself the way it’s supposed to. It’s okay that they take a little longer to heal without the opiate medications.
Do some research! There’s hundreds of great resources like Drug Free Kids and the NIH. Together we can inform our families and loved ones about the dangers of drug abuse.